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WISCONSIN: SPED kids being restrained/secluded; regulations needed

Feb 12, 2020, Appleton (WI) Post Crescent: SCHOOLS ARE DISCOURAGED FROM RESTRAINING OR SECLUDING KIDS. BOTH STILL HAPPEN IN WISCONSIN — BUT NO ONE CAN SAY HOW OFTEN. When Amber McGinley looks at her 9-year-old son, she sees a kind and loving little boy who loves helping her in the kitchen, doing puzzles and playing with electronic devices. She also sees a little boy who faces significant challenges at school. The third-grader has autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder and vestibular issues, and he receives special education services at Ferber Elementary. He sometimes becomes aggressive and violent when he's upset or overly stimulated. He yells and throws objects. He threatens and hits and scratches and pushes his teachers. When that happens, school staff may physically restrain him or seclude him in a room separate from his classmates. On those days, he comes home from school withdrawn, sometimes with cuts and bruises. Teachers and administrators tell McGinley their actions were the only option, as he was presenting a "clear, present and imminent risk" to physical safety — the only time seclusion and restraint can be used, according to Wisconsin law. But McGinley questions that explanation, wondering why it happens so much, and why the Appleton school district can't seem to figure out how to calm him before a behavioral incident escalates to the point of needing to use seclusion or restraint. … Still, the techniques are widespread in Wisconsin. The state's usage of seclusion and restraint is well above the national per capita average, according to federal data for the 2013-14 school year. By McGinley's count, her son had been secluded 20 times and restrained 27 times by the end of second grade. She guesses there are more incidents she doesn't know about…. McGinley, a candidate for Appleton school board, is sharing her story to provoke change. She's among a growing number of Wisconsin parents and disability advocates who are pushing for revisions to state law that limits how and when school employees can physically restrain or seclude students. The revision would also require schools to provide parents with a full report any time a child is secluded or restrained…. Some say seclusion and restraint shouldn't happen. No one knows how often it does. Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student apart from his or her peers in a small room — essentially, it's an isolated timeout. Usually attached to the special education room, the tiny rooms are often referred to as "quiet areas" or "relaxation rooms." Restraint, meanwhile, is a physical restriction that reduces a student's ability to freely move his or her torso, arms, legs or head. In Wisconsin, that's limited to hands-on techniques; mechanical restraints are prohibited. Until 2012, Wisconsin had no laws governing the use of seclusion and restraint. That changed on the heels of a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report that found that in the previous two decades, hundreds of U.S. cases of abuse and death related to seclusion and restraint methods. … Since then, a movement has emerged to eliminate seclusion and restraint altogether. In November, a ProPublica Illinois and Chicago Tribune investigation brought to light the misuse and overuse of seclusion and restraint across Illinois. The next day, the state's Board of Education issued an emergency order to stop all isolated timeouts and some forms of restraint. The board is also pushing for legislation that would permanently ban seclusion and face-down restraints. No federal law regulates seclusion and restraint, but the U.S. Department of Education notes in a guide that "the foundation of any discussion about the use of restraint and seclusion is that every effort should be made to avoid it and provide enough supports that the practice becomes unnecessary."… Under federal law, schools are required to submit seclusion and restraint data to the federal Department of Education every two years. But a 2019 federal report raised doubts of the accuracy of the data, after 70% of more than 17,000 school districts reported zero incidents of seclusion and restraint in the 2015-16 school year. Required to provide an explanation when reporting zero incidents, officials from nine of the country's largest school districts said they had incidents they didn't report, had incidents they were unable to report, or they were not collecting data. Wisconsin ranked sixth in physical restraint per capita, with one instance per 120 public school students, and seventh in seclusion per capita, at one incident per 123 students, according to federal data for the 2013-14 school year. That puts Wisconsin well above the national average for restraint and seclusion, which was one incident per 317 public school students and one incident per 465, respectively. …


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